It's that time of the year once again, when hideous sweaters are pulled out of the closet, 1:64 scale die-cast cars are turned into emergency tree ornaments, eggnog is freshened up with a little moonshine, and reindeer antlers are strapped to the head of a rather disapproving dog (those last two might have something to do with each other). And of course, there are gifts. Always gifts, wrapped up in bright, festive paper and topped by the kind of bows your mother makes you save in a shoebox rather than throw away.
It's the season for giving, or so they say, although some of your more prominent NASCAR personalities can be notoriously difficult to buy for. What do you get for the man who has everything, including a Learjet 85 and a four-bedroom loft on the Upper West Side? You have to get creative. It's the thought that counts, after all, so you have to think hard and come up with something personal the recipient will appreciate. That, or new socks.
So with that, let Santa remove his HANS device and five-point harness, climb out of the window opening in his sleigh and remove the big bag from atop the rear deck lid. If he doesn't unload quickly, he's facing a $50,000 fine from NASCAR for unapproved weight distribution (per rule 20-2.3, any added weight must be bolted inside the body shell). Given that we don't want the man to be suspended for next Christmas, let him get to work, beginning with a gift for the driver who started off this season with such a bang.
Juan Montoya:Everyone expected fireworks for the first prime-time running of the Daytona 500, but not exactly of this kind. Montoya lost control of his car under caution and slammed into a jet dryer, igniting a fireball that delayed the race for two hours and made a Twitter superstar out of a future Sprint Cup champion. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the event resumed without further incident. It would become the defining moment of Montoya's rotten season, one that hopefully can be made better with some holiday cheer.
Gift:Lifetime supply of Tide.
Matt Kenseth:Montoya hitting the jet dryer. Brad Keselowski tweeting from inside the car. Danica Patrick making her Sprint Cup debut. Wait, who won the Daytona 500 again? "When we did the Daytona 500 media tour ... winning the race was the fourth question everywhere we went," Kenseth said. "It was jet dryer, Brad tweeting from the car and Danica in the race. And not necessarily in that order. But seriously, those were the first three questions on every media stop for a week. First three. And then the fourth one was about winning the race."
Gift:A bright yellow firesuit so no one will ever overlook him again. Oh wait, he already has that, courtesy of his new car sponsor at Joe Gibbs Racing. Then a fruit basket.
Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer:Revenge is a dish best served in a dry heat. At least that's the way Gordon delivered it, waiting seven months to go vigilante on Bowyer for an incident that occurred between the two in the spring at Martinsville. Back then, Bowyer forced it three-wide on a restart, and the No. 24 was wrecked. In Phoenix, Gordon lingered on the race track and let the No. 15 car have it. Scuffles, chases through the garage area and harsh words followed. As of Champions Week, the two still weren't on speaking terms.
Gift:The Octagon. Climb inside, boys. Winner gets to keep it.
Denny Hamlin:The perpetual Sprint Cup bridesmaid was left holding the bouquet once again, after a $40 electrical switch failed in the fall Martinsville race. One minute, he looked like the favorite for the title, winning three times in five weeks. The next, he was out of it, suffering a mechanical breakdown and a massive points hit that made him a bystander as Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson dueled for the championship.
Gift:Coupon good for one free diagnostic check at Toyota of North Charlotte.
Jeff Burton:It was another tough campaign for the Mayor, who missed the Chase for a second consecutive season and saw a winless streak that dates to the 2008 fall race at Charlotte stretch to 149 events. But the guy was a beast on restrictor-plate tracks, finishing in the top 10 in all four events, and was runner-up in the summer Daytona race.
Gift:Sorry, but a third annual Talladega race is out of our price range. Instead, here's a framed and mountable restrictor plate with an opening of 57/64ths of an inch, which in February will have to be changed to 30/32nds of an inch.
Bruton Smith:The overlord of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire had a busy year. He had the top groove at Bristol ground down in an effort to facilitate more bump-and-run action, and though the tactic didn't work perfectly, it did produce one of the more entertaining races of the season. He ironed out all those traffic issues in Kentucky. And the World's Largest HDTV still lights up Charlotte, unrivaled in size, and indisputably enhancing the race-day experience.
Gift:The World's Largest Blu-Ray Player.
Brad Keselowski:Talk about the guy who has everything -- a new $5 million check, a new Sprint Cup trophy, even a new race car for 2013. But the champ deserves something for his on-track exploits as well as a social media savvy that helped NASCAR become the second-most popular sports hashtag (behind the NFL) on Twitter in 2012. He didn't do it all himself, of course, but he set the standard for driver-fan engagement, starting with a surreptitious snapshot of that burning jet dyer at Daytona. The man's iPhone never rests.
Gift:Unlimited data plan.
Joie Chitwood III:The president of Daytona International Speedway comes from a family of daredevils, and he was once a stuntman himself. Those skills surely came in handy during a Daytona 500 that was delayed a day by rain for the first time, and then ... well, you know the rest. The guy might as well have spent all of Speedweeks on a unicycle, he did so much juggling. He did it all while maintaining a sense of cool that let you know he was always in control, and always had a plan, even when he might not have.
Gift:A sunny day on Feb. 24, 2013. Come to think of it, that would be the perfect gift for everyone.